July 2008

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I was a juror in a case where a man was accused of attacking a cop who had pulled him over for a traffic violation. We convicted him because his story wasn’t believable for a number of reasons, one of which was his claim that the cop attacked him out of the blue without provocation. That just seemed unlikely.

I wonder how we would have felt if we’d seen this video before the trial:

The officer claims he was arresting the cyclist for disorderly conduct in blocking traffic, which might be true, but he also claims the cyclist deliberately drove into him and knocked them both to the ground, so I don’t think he’s believable.

(On the other hand, if I was stuck behind such an annoying buch of cyclists, I’d probably be cheering on the cop to kick his ass.)

Speaking of drug raids, a while back I posted about a raid in which the Lima, Ohio SWAT team killed Tarika Wilson.

For that post, I was taken to task twice (here and here) by people who called me ignorant of police tactics. I’m sure they’re right, but that just doesn’t matter, because you don’t have to be an expert on police tactics to know that something is wrong when cops shoot and kill an unarmed woman while she’s holding her infant son, who is also wounded.

As I made clear,

my anger isn’t directed at the individual member of the Lima SWAT team who pulled the trigger. Something definitely went wrong that day in Wilson’s house, but I have no idea what, and it may not have been his fault.

It turns out that some important people disagree with me, specifically the prosecutor for Lima, Ohio. The shooter, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, has been charged with negligent homicide and is currently on trial.

The prosecutor’s witnesses have testified to some ugly details:

A woman shot and killed by a police officer during a drug raid was likely on her knees and complying with a SWAT team’s orders to get down when she was hit in the neck and chest, two experts testified Wednesday at the officer’s trial.

And yes, they also shot the dog.

Yet another pointless drug raid:

“My government blew through my doors and killed my dogs,” Calvo said. “They thought we were drug dealers, and we were treated as such. I don’t think they really ever considered that we weren’t.”

This time the victim is the Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, so this is getting a little attention outside the libertarian blogosphere.

His two dogs were labrador retrievers, not the most threatening dogs in the world, and he claims one of them was shot as it ran away. It’s not the first time SWAT teams have been accused of shooting the family dogs for sport.

Local news video here.

(Hat tip: Pete and Radley)

I’m something of a libertarian, and libertarianism is about fighting big government. Usually when push comes to shove, it’s law enforcement officers who are the point of the government’s spear. So it would be easy to hate cops.

I try not to, though. Most of the cops I know seem like pretty decent folks doing a job that I couldn’t do. They don’t invent the rules, they just have the crappy job of enforcing them. So I try not to hate cops.

But sometimes, they don’t make it easy for me. For example, I think I hate these cops:

Last December, I posted about a botched SWAT raid on an innocent Minnesota family. Acting on bad information from an informant, the police threw flash grenades though the family’s windows, then exchanged gunfire with Vang Khang, who mistook the police for criminal intruders. Seven months later, no one in the police department has been held accountable for the mistakes leading up to the raid.

However, this week Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan and Mayor R.T. Rybak did give the raiding officers medals and commendations for their bravery in nearly killing Vang Khang, his wife, and their six children.

Radley Balko has the whole story.

Update: I’ve read a few more stories about this, and I may have to back down. It sounds like the SWAT team was acting on bad information from the Violent Offenders Task Force. They wouldn’t have had reason to question the Task Force’s determination that a raid was justified. The officers that were shot do not appear to have been at fault. In that case, they deserve their medals.

To the department’s credit, at least they aren’t trying to put the homeowner in jail for shooting at them, or planting drugs on him as certain other departments might have done. These days, that makes them honorable professionals.

Moby Kip posts about the many, many problems with the home mortgage bailout bill, which seems to be designed to lure still more financially marginal families into home ownership.

And for some reason it even includes a tax handout to a giant company that has nothing to do with the real estate business.

I know nothing about election politics, but I’ve decided to make a prediction for the Prognistication file anyway.

I’m noticing that a lot of conservative coverage of Obama’s campaign is pointing out that he’s just another politician, he’s not divine, he has ties to Chicago politicians, or that some of his actions are politically motivated (in an election year, no less).

When you’re stuck arguing that your opponent is not a deity, you’re going to lose.

Rob at the 26th St. Bar Association is calling me out to post something about the statistics revealed in a report by the ACLU of Illinois about racial profiling by Illinois State Police. As Rob summarizes from the report:

In essence, blacks are “asked” if it’s ok to look around their vehicle three times more often than whites and Hispanics are “asked” twice as many times as whites if the ISP can just poke around. And you know what? It’s the whites with the drugs!

The results show that during consent searches, 8.85% of whites searched had contraband (pot, usually) on them, and only 5.06% of blacks and 1.12% of Hispanics have contraband.

I guess I should acknowledge that we have these numbers because the Illinois legislature passed a law requiring the police to gather the data. Whatever else I may say about them, they get points for promoting transparency.

That said, I don’t find the numbers to be terribly useful. There’s so much we don’t know, which means we can spout all sorts of theories without reaching any useful conclusions. Which is what I’m about to do. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

If I wanted to be super-contrarian, for example, I could argue that the numbers show that minorities are better at hiding their dope. (Fans of The Wire may remember Herc complaining to Kima that the white dope dealers are so stupid that he feels no pride in catching them.)

We can do some more realistic theorizing if we look at the massive state report the ACLU used to get their numbers and pull some data from page 776. Here’s a table of the data reported by the Illinois State Police:

Caucasian African American Hispanic Total
Stops 364377 82954 35933 483264
Search Requests 591 421 196 1208
Found Something 46 19 2 67
% Searched 0.1427% 0.4521% 0.4981% 0.2222%
% Found 8.8462% 5.0667% 1.1173% 6.2384%
% Holding 0.0126% 0.0229% 0.0056% 0.0139%

Note the “% Holding” line, which shows the percentage of all people stopped who were found to have drugs. Blacks stopped for traffic offenses are clearly found to be holding drugs more often than whites. This could reflect their behavior, or it could be the result of uneven enforcement. In any case, blacks stopped in traffic are being arrested for drug possession at a higher rate than whites.

Free market economists have pointed out that racism is often punished by the market. Racist policies are often inefficient, and companies that indulge in them will pay a price. Although police activities are not a market situation, we can still see what may be a similar effect: The desire to search blacks and Hispanics seems to be hurting the department’s stats.

Since whites have the highest rate of getting caught with drugs, the optimal drug-finding strategy is to search only whites. This table projects what the Illinois State Police stats would look like in 2007 if they didn’t search the 421 blacks and 196 Hispanics and instead used their resources to search 617 more whites:

Caucasian African American Hispanic Total
Stops 364377 82954 35933 483264
Search Requests 1208 0 0 1208
Found 94 0 0 94
PCT Searched 0.2917% 0% 0% 0.2199%
PCT Found 8.8462% 0% 0% 8.8462%
PCT Holding 0.0258% 0% 0% 0.0258%

Without increasing manpower costs, they could increase drug arrests by 40%

To project this data, I assumed the rate at which drugs are found would remain a constant. There are two good reasons why that might not be the case, both of which are other theories to explain the data.

First of all, the the lower success rates for searching blacks could be a case of diminishing returns. Presumably, when Illinois State Police officers pick which 0.14% of white-operated cars to search, they pick the ones they believe most likely to have drugs. If told to triple the number of white-operated cars they search—thus matching the black search rate—they will presumably have to search cars that they previously guessed were less likely to have drugs. If their guesses were good, then having to search more cars will lower their success rate. Since they are already searching more black-operated cars, maybe this explains the lower success rate completely.

In this case, the optimal strategy is a generalization of the previous one: They should adjust their search rates to equalize success rates across races. That they clearly are not doing so suggests that state troopers are searching black-operated cars for reasons other than trying to make the most drug arrests.

Racism is certainly one possible explanation, although it’s hard to be sure of the effect. Perhaps state troopers are systematically overestimating the criminal tendencies of blacks, or they are trying harder to arrest blacks than whites, or they are using the searches themselves to harass blacks.

We can also propose some more benign theories, such as that whites are being caught with pot, but minorities are being caught with harder drugs, or that minorities are more likely to be members of inner-city drug gangs transporting cocaine and heroin as part of a criminal enterprise. Police might reasonably search more frequently to find harder drugs or to take violent gang members off the street.

Another important factor affecting the rate of successful drug searches is that drivers will presumably take the search rates into consideration when deciding whether or not to carry drugs. Since blacks are three times as likely to be searched as whites, it’s no surprise that fewer of them carry drugs.

The same theories should also apply to the differences between whites and Hispanics. The higher search rate for Hispanics should produce diminishing returns, and it should discourage Hispanics from carrying drugs, both of which should result in a lower rate of finding drugs when searching Hispanics.

This brings us to an interesting anomaly: Since blacks are searched at a higher rate than Hispanics, blacks should carry drugs less often than Hispanics. However, the statistics show that blacks are four times as likely to be caught with drugs as Hispanics.

This inversion suggests that blacks have a higher likelihood of drug possession than Hispanics, for any given level of enforcement. I’m not saying drug possession is some sort of racial trait, but it can’t be explained by the differences in police behavior captured in this data. Perhaps blacks are culturally more likely to carry drugs than Hispanics, or maybe state troopers tend to encounter blacks in high-crime areas where they are more motivated to conduct searches.

Chicago Police numbers (page 298) tend to support this second theory, because although blacks and Hispanics are 5 and 4.5 times more likely than whites to be searched, respectively, the rates at which drugs are found are much closer together—12.7% for whites, 10.7 for blacks, and 10.4% for Hispanics—which makes sense because it all happens in the same city. Then again, blacks form a significant part of the power structure in Chicago, so maybe that’s forcing CPD to handle racial issues better.

(Side note: The reports also include numbers for other ethnic groups. Interestingly, in 2007 neither the Illinois State Police nor the Chicago Police searched the cars of any American Indians. This suggests that American Indians in need of cash could hire themselves out as drug mules.)

The reason I have so many theories and so little proof for any of them is that there’s not enough data in this study. It suggests there’s something racial going on without pinpointing the problem. But maybe it’s a guide to where to look next…

Sometimes, when I read about federal law enforcement, it seems like they have magical superpowers that allow them to blow past any need to prove guilt in a courtroom. Congress has been passing so many criminal laws, and federal criminal procedure seems so slanted, that merely being investigated by the feds is the equivalent of a guilty verdict at the state level.

I am reminded of this by a post at Simple Justice about what happens when corporations are under investigation. The government can extract all kinds of concessions without proving that anybody did anything wrong. It’s not really the kind of power I want our government to have.

Well, I’m finished postprocessing the photos I took of Jennifer on Wednesday, and I think the photoshoot was a success. They’re not all beautiful, and they’re not as good as I’d like them to be, but I took them my way. This is the first step toward taking the kinds of photos I’d like to take.

Some of them are just pretty-girl shots in an urban environment, like the headshot at the top, with its bricks-and-mortar background, or the beach-style backlighting above, with a shiny sea of afternoon traffic filling in for the glittering water.

Most glamour photography is either lit evenly so you can see the model, or lit only from one side, so parts of the model are hidden in her own shadow. In street photography, as in the shot above, the shadows are cast by the environment.

Finally, here’s one of my favorites, complete with urban texture and odd shadows:

If you’d like to see more, visit the photo gallery, and click the “Slideshow” button in the upper right to see a slideshow of all 13 images in high-resolution.

Some friends of ours have rented a house up at Powers Lake in Wisconsin for a month and they invited us to spend some time with them.

Mostly, we sat around doing nothing, but I did get to take a few pictures of people on the lake, including this pair of photos taken 3 seconds apart:

All in all, it was a relaxing time.

I did a photo shoot with a model named Jennifer a few days ago, and it’s weird how photography distorts things. I’ve seen her in person from just a couple of feet away, and she’s a pretty girl, but you couldn’t tell it from some of the photos I have here. Check out this one, where the harsh lighting makes her look like she’s in her late 30’s or early 40’s.

There’s nothing wrong with being 40 years old, but Jennifer’s only 26, and glamour photography isn’t supposed to make women look older.

I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t a glamour shoot. Another reminder of that comes from the fact that Jennifer is wearing the same clothes and striking the same casual pose in nearly all the shots. I wish I’d given her more direction. But I have to remind myself that this was about testing techniques, not getting glamour shots.

I hate Digital Rights Managed (DRM) music. For one thing, once I buy some music, I want to be able to move it to other devices or other computers without having to check with the rights management server every time.

The other reason to hate DRM music is this:

Yahoo e-mailed its Yahoo! Music Store customers yesterday, telling them it will be closing for good–and the company will take its DRM license key servers offline on September 30, 2008.

So, if you bought music from Yahoo, won’t be able to transfer it to new computers any more. On the other hand, if you bought your music on CD, you could then rip it to any computer you want.

That’s what Yahoo suggests you do with your music: Burn it to a CD so you can rip it later. Of course, since you’re re-compressing your music, it won’t sound as good as if you ripped it from a factory CD, and you’ll lose all the catalogging information. On the other hand, if you’d traded ripped MP3s, you wouldn’t be having any of these problems.

Google cancelled their DRM video business a while back, but they had the good graces to refund all their customers money, and when MSN Music went out of business a few months ago, they at least agreed to keep the servers running for a few more years. Yahoo’s less-than-customer-friendly approach will probably be more common as more DRM business models collapse.

(Hat tip: Balko)

Reason‘s Jacob Sullum points us to the story of New Orleans District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson’s new policy of inflating her felony prosecution statistics by charging minor marijuana offenders with felonies. Lousiana law allows second and following offenses to be charged as felonies, but hardly anyone ever did it before.

In the comments section, Andrew quotes from a DEA webpage:

There is a myth in this country that U.S. prisons are filled with drug users. This assertion is simply not true. Actually, only 5 percent of inmates in federal prison on drug charges are incarcerated for drug possession. In our state prisons, it’s somewhat higher–about 27% of drug offenders. In New York, which has received criticism from some because of its tough Rockefeller drug laws, it is estimated that 97% of drug felons sentenced to prison were charged with sale or intent to sell, not simply possession.

Intent to sell. That’s where they’re caught with drugs which they are intending to sell, but which they have not in fact been caught selling. That sounds like possession to me.

The page is full of an amazing number of not-quite-lies about the War on Drugs. For example,

The Michigan Department of Corrections just finished a study of their inmate population. They discovered that out of 47,000 inmates, only 15 people were incarcerated on first-time drug possession charges. (500 are incarcerated on drug possession charges, but 485 are there on multiple charges or pled down.)

In other words, 500 people are incarcerated for drug possesion. Just because the police had to catch them twice doesn’t make the incarceration any easier. And I don’t know what to make of the “pled down” factoid. From what, possession with intent? Sale? Some other victimless crime?

According to the DEA, most drug offenders get drug treatment programs, not jail time:

Drug treatment courts are working. Researchers estimate that more than 50 percent of defendants convicted of drug possession will return to criminal behavior within two to three years. Those who graduate from drug treatment courts have far lower rates of recidivism, ranging from 2 to 20 percent.

What makes drug treatment courts so different? Graduates are held accountable to the program. Unlike purely voluntary treatment programs, the addict–who has a physical need for drugs– can’t simply quit treatment whenever he or she feels like it.

Or it could be that unlike voluntary treatment programs, the court-ordered programs don’t distinguish between drug addicts and ordinary non-addicted drug users. It’s pretty easy to “cure” someone of an addiction they don’t have.

I don’t really have a point here. I’m just pissed off.

I just took a quick look at the photos from Tuesday’s model shoot. As with the other three model shoots I’ve done, my initial impression doesn’t make me happy. It turns out that I took exactly 200 photos, and most of them aren’t very good.

The first time that happened, it was horrifying: All that time and effort and I got nothing. All those shots I had high hopes for turned out to be disasters. (This time, at least, I’m not letting the model down because she got paid. I don’t owe her anything for her portfolio.)

When I relax a bit and look at the photos with with fewer preconceptions, I start to notice that some of them are actually pretty decent. And as I get better with Photoshop, I begin to spot images that can be fixed with some image adjustments, or that will look better if subject to radical manipulation.

I’m starting to realize that this is part of the learning process. First I have to take the pictures and see what works. Next time around, I’ll know what works and I can spend more time refining those concepts.

Of course, picking out images after the fact that can be made to look good in Photoshop isn’t really skilled photography. The real goal here is to be able to envision the completed image, then plan the shoot, take the pictures, and post-process the images in photoshop to get the same image I had in my head.

[Update: I snipped out a few paragraphs here because they’ll work better in my next post.]

I figured I’d post a couple of images this time.

That’s a composition similar to real street photography. I could easily have taken it of a random woman in the street instead of a hired model. In an ideal shot, there’d be something a lot more interesting than a city bus, maybe people arguing or a street vendor or just an odd composition of passers-by.

In this case, I did get what I wanted before going into Photoshop. The base image has lots of high-contrasts and the right composition. I then used Photoshop to deepen the contrast, darken the dark areas a bit more, and saturate the colors a bit. Then I applied a grain filter to make the image look like I used high-speed film.

(The only real surprise in this shot was how the “Senior Citizens” sign stood out. It was even more glaring than you see here, but I knocked it down in postprocessing. I think it must have a retroreflective coating that bounced my flash back real strong.)

The next photo is probably the most model-shot-like photo I took all day. My direction to Jennifer was “Do some of that model stuff.”

Note the harsh and sometimes ugly shadows. That was intentional because I’m not going for glamour here, but I have to admit it’s not quite what I want either.

I’ll have to see what else I can find.

Christian Bale, star of the latest Batman movie and the next Terminator movie, is accused of assaulting his mother and his sister in an incident at a hotel in London. He’s quoted in an AP wire story:

“It’s a deeply personal matter,” Bale told The Associated Press at a news conference at a luxury hotel in Barcelona. “I would ask you to respect my privacy in the matter.”

Yeah, good luck with that.